Kelp farm is a prime example how Rathlin Island is streets ahead of rest of NI

Northern Ireland’s only kelp farm has been yielding a bumper crop over the past two months.

By Graeme Cousins
Monday, 7th June 2021, 2:09 pm
DAERA minister Edwin Poots meets with Kate Burns on Northern Ireland’s first and only commercial seaweed farm. 

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
DAERA minister Edwin Poots meets with Kate Burns on Northern Ireland’s first and only commercial seaweed farm. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

And it’s come right on cue as the island off which it’s farmed has set out ambitious plans to become carbon neutral.

Kate Burns is the founder of Islander Kelp, and just like many of the 148 other residents she shares Rathlin Island with, she works in harmony with her environment.

She said: “The community produced its first biodiversity plan 10 years ago when other people weren’t even aware of what that was. As an example of a community working together it’s quite outstanding.

Some of the kelp produced by Islander Kelp

“There’s been a lot of creative people who’ve moved here. People want to get away from urban madness, with that then you have an awful lot of people who are committed to the environment.”

With Michael Cecil leading the way as chair of the community association Rathlin has laid out a plan to become carbon neutral.

Kate said: “There’s a number of people in Rathlin, including myself, who are off grid. We use solar panels, wind turbines, etc. There is a lot of local production of food. Half of the island is registered organic farm. For a tiny community to be doing that is pretty amazing.”

Other means of achieving carbon neutrality include a hydrogen ferry and electric vehicles. And of course, Kate’s own business is a perfect example of an operation in harmony with its surrounds.

She said: “Kelp has multiple benefits – as a foodstuff it’s got more iron and calcium than any other vegetable. It’s also high in protein and magnesium – all the things that are in meat. A lot of vegans and vegetarians eat it as a meat replacement.

“You grow it with no pesticides, nothing nasty, it grows naturally. The more you grow the better it is for the environment as it provides a fish habitat and absorbs carbon – it’s extremely amazing stuff.

“The kelp we produce is mostly exported as a high end food product. There is evidence that shows that kelp in animal feeds reduces methane, and addresses the challenges of carbon output from livestock farming.”

Kate said that the baby kelp plants are grown in tanks on Rathlin. When they reach two millimetres those plants are attached to a rope out at sea.

Kate said: “When it comes to harvest time (May and June) you haul the rope in and it’s hanging like that – a curtain of kelp.”

When DAERA minister Edwin Poots visited last week to learn more about the island’s carbon neutral plans, Kate was pleased to report a bumper crop: “We were taking 16 kilos a metre off the ropes – I think that could be the record.”

Mr Poots department has provided funding of £38,000 over the past year for environmental activities on Rathlin.

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